Friday, February 29, 2008

life in the camps

(february 28, 2008)

i visited a number of idp sites today, i say sites because the idp camps in kenya are not as you would typically imagine. they are in police stations, churches, fields, showgrounds, and various other types of compounds. one of the best parts of the day was driving around the rural areas surrounding nairobi and watching african life go by. the woman carrying huge loads on their heads, the matatu repair shops, the markets, the dusty towns, the children in their school uniforms walking in lines along the road, the shops called People’s Choice Shop or Miracles General Store or Here It Is Pub, the countless roadside signs for churches and christian groups, the never-ending fields of tea (which is perhaps the most vibrant colour of green), the lorries trudging along (often chock full of people or agricultural products), the ever-present advertisements for milk or phone credit, the barclays atms at the most arbitrary locations, the villages with names like Banana Hill...

in the camps, the first thing that struck me was just the amount of people living in one area and how much they resembled recreational campsites. as usual, the kids stared at me until i waved and then they smiled and probably continued to wonder what the hell has been going on since early 2008. one of them told me (in swahili so i needed a translation from my colleague who was laughing while she explained) that i was the smallest white person they had ever seen. and somehow this gave them license to crawl all over me, twisting my arm behind my back, and covering me in the red dirt that they were covered in. once we established that i was not a toy, we all got along fine and wandered around the camp hand-in-hand. i often wonder if they just want to see if i feel the same way as they do because i remember thinking that same thought when i was young about black people.

of the places i visited today, i was impressed with the camp managers’ organisation, the considerations made for those considered most vulnerable (pregnant and lactating women, orphaned children, and HIV+ people who need to access clinics to receive their ARVs) and the ways in which the communities worked together to make the camps as liveable as possible.
it also made me smile to see that many of the idps were dressed in their best clothes. men walk around in suits and women wear heeled shoes, which is impressive to a heel-hater such as myself. it is admirable how life continues for the displaced people: women cook and wash, laundry hangs, children attend classes, parents discipline their kids, teenagers flirt, women sit around braiding each others’ hair, children play and tease each other, and men sit around and visit.

visiting the camps made the situation kenya is facing more real for me, as i can easily just live in my suburb and go to work and talk about the crisis and then come back home and have no worries about what i will eat, where i will sleep, how safe i am, or what my future holds. it was also nice to be warmly welcomed and to see people acting rather than listen to what needs to be done and where the gaps are, which happens in my days. granted, the locations i was at today are small and manageable and a distance from where the worst violence occurred. surprisingly, visiting the idp camps was an uplifting and motivating experience for me.

on days like this, i love my job and appreciate my life.

raw only - day four

(february 28, 2008)

i am feeling rather cleansed today, but at night i notice an ache in my kidneys, i am hoping that is the ache that comes with the cleansing of the kidney rather than the strain on the kidney.
i also tend to get rather hyper in the late afternoon and i’m sure it is because i am eating a lot of fruit and no starches to absorb that so it goes zap, straight into my veins as pure, short-lived energy.

the nice thing about eating this way is that it makes me think about all the fresh produce i can eat. i must admit that i have not been too adventurous and just stuck with what i know, but i have rediscovered the beauty of the tree tomato and the mango, which i had given up on because it makes you so sticky. today, as i had predicted, i was able to get mangos and bananas right next door to an idp camp, glad to know some fine young entrepreneurs are profiting off the existence of the camp.

but earlier today i had this incredible craving for a pbj. the kind that gets a little warm and mushy because you have been carrying it around for half a day. i could also go for one now too, now that i think about it.

and i am afraid (but not really, because i think this is sort of madness) i will have to cut the 7 days off early as i have a farewell lunch with a friend leaving nairobi and there has been talk of wine. and i cannot say no to wine at a friend’s farewell. it is actually physically impossible, especially if the weather is going to be gorgeous and delightful as it has been in recent midafternoons.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

raw only - day three

eating only raw food is boring. and takes a lot of chopping and a lot of chewing.

i have noticed that i am tired earlier in the day and i surprisingly only have cravings in the middle of the day when i am at work and usually for coffee and chocolate cake. this chocolate cake thing is getting out of hand!

i can still concentrate fine, i am not moody, and i feel otherwise normal. apart from starving right now, but that is because i am staying at work late in preparations for my upcoming visits to the camps, where i assume i will be able to buy bananas if i am in need of some raw food hunger satisfiers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

raw only – day one

february 25, 2008)

today is the first of 7 days of eating only raw food. don’t ask me why i am doing this because i really have no idea. my flatmate has been doing it for 3 weeks and had a week left to go and had been asking me to join her so i figured i could do it for a week. here is the deal, i can eat anything that has not been cooked or heated, including spices that have been heated in the processing and salt. i have no idea why there is no salt allowed, but i am just going to follow instructions and wait to see what happens. i anticipate a lot of gas happening and not sure what else, but apparently this is supposed to be good for your body and your spirit. we’ll see.

thus far, i have not really noticed anything and this hasn’t been so hard but then again, this is only day one. apart from being so ridiculously tired at 8:30pm, but that could be because i had a busy day and have a busy week ahead of me. but the good kind of busy, the fun kind where i get to do things that actually lead to some measurable results and get me out of the office. and, if all goes well, i will get to go to some of the displacement camps in and around nairobi. i know that i should not necessarily be excited for that, but i am.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

not my style of yoga

when my flatmate invited me to attend her saturday morning yoga class with her i thought it would be a great opportunity to get back into the regular practice of yoga since my yoga/pilates teacher decided to move to some ashram in india, get some bending and stretching into my life, and improve my physical and mental health. i put on my lulu’s, grabbed my socks (apparently this class is done in stocking feet), and was searching in the depths of my closet for my yoga mat until my flatmate said i did not need it and then we were off. after the stress of fighting nairobi traffic, i was looking forward to some centering and balancing and then some strengthening poses to calm my mind.

but what i found upon my arrival was a very different kind of yoga class. one that was a mix between indian dancing and tumbling, complete with indian techno music played on repeat and a teacher who instead of speaking, would stare at you and use hand signals in attempts to communicate. where each student was singled out at one point to demonstrate the sommersault, hip wiggle, or cirque de soliel-style handstand. there are a few things that i absolutely hate, that make me break out into sweats and induce such feelings of panic, and being singled out to demonstrate something i am not comfortable doing in front of strangers is one of them. and i was not about to start flopping around on a dirty floor without a mat and without instruction to do headstands and shoulder stands, that thanks to my fantastic yoga teacher back in canada, i think should be done with guidance and care as not to hurt yourself.

to alleviate any feels of panic and duress, i quietly excused myself and i do not imagine that i will back there anytime soon. and here i was thinking a yoga class would be calming and relieve stress not induce anxiety and the desire to flee in my socks and sandals!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

the panic button

(february 20, 2008)

i just returned from dinner with someone who has become an old friend. and funny how we have only known each other 1 year but he is able to give me perspective that few other people around this town have been able to lately. that just feels good. especially during a time when i am counting down to a few different things and in some ways, waiting for life to happen, but in others, making the most of it while i can. it is quite a intellectual pickle to be in and can cause some very drastic changes in mood and outlook. and is quite exhausting.

but i feel as though i am coming to the end of my time in nairobi. i am hesitant to say that the decision is final and has been made definitely, but at the end of my current contract there will be little keeping me here and even less motivation for me to pursue another. and it would appear as though there are new and exciting things awaiting me elsewhere.

these changes are not without the usual high levels of stress that i generally carry around with me every day. my current worries tend to focus on whether or not i am ready to leave this career and this lifestyle that is boring me and exhausting me at the moment but parts of which i adore. i don’t want to appear as though i am giving up or even walking away, although that is precisely what i am doing and i genuinely believe that it is my best decision.

i am already concerned about what i will do next, whether or not i will enjoy it, how long it will be before i come back to africa, whether or not i will ever be able to work again in relief/development, what will i do if i regret my decision... if i think about such things logically and without the panic mode switched to On, i am fine and am confident i will continue to be fine. but sometimes, typically 3 times/hour, i ask myself all of these questions and need to talk myself down from the highrise ledge that is my worry. like i said, exhausting.

bonking sticks

(february 19, 2008)

i was walking to work this morning and passed a masaai man with his bonking stick and his stretched ear lobes and i thought to myself, ‘there are some things i am really going to miss about kenya.’ and then later that morning, i heard gunshots from my office.*

all signs are pointing to me leaving kenya in the next 4ish months. and as plans are solidifying on
The Next Step, i am already thinking about the things that i will miss when i leave this country; here they are in a user-friendly list:

· flip flops in february
· my housekeeper
· having a housekeeper
· being able to afford to have a housekeeper
· eating a brilliant indian dinner out for less than $10
· going to outdoor markets
· filling my entire fridge with fresh produce for pennies
· 10 shilling avocados
· constant availability of fruit like passion and tree tomatoes
· my friendly neighbourhood taxi drivers
· going to parties with people from all over the world
· renting pirated tv shows and movies
· flowers blooming all the time, including frangipani, hydrangea, and hibiscus
· chocolate fudge cake
· fresh cut flowers bought on the roadside
· the tailors
· weekend trips to other african countries
· the women carrying their huge loads on their heads or their backs walking down the street

*the gunshots were from the police who gunned down thugs who had carjacked someone in the ploy to escape the police. because that always works. and this information courtesy of the all knowing friendly neighbourhood taxi driver.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

one hell of a hard week

this past week was hard. sort of like how 25 was hard.

and how do i know it was so hard? on wednesday i ate chocolate fudge cake and brussel sprouts for dinner. just because i wanted to. and the sprouts were not going to last much longer in my fridge. on friday i ate a Ritter Sport delicious bar of chocolate for dinner then fell asleep for 12 hours. 12 full hours of sleep uninterrupted by downstairs neighbours, by car alarms, or by that pesking alarm waking me up for yet another day of work. i feel fantastic.

but that week was still hard.

and i am up bright and early on a saturday morning, sipping my capuccino and looking at this cafe's menu trying to find something that has iron in it since i have not eaten meat in nearly 2 months and i am feeling as though i might be anemic. instead of actually having a blood test to check this out, i am just going to eat a cheeseburger and see if that helps.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

a picture of productivity

(february 9, 2008)

my To Do List has taken a beating lately as i have busted my way through it the past 2 days. i started my productivity streak with an appointment at the dentist. he was a jolly south african fellow who could play santa at any children’s christmas party. he looked at me as though i am paranoid about oral health when i told him what the problem was, but he managed to remedy it in just 45 short minutes and there was not a needle in sight. i realised my least favourite part of the entire dental experience is the polishing. is it possible that there a worse feeling?

i think the friendly atmosphere of the dentist’s office actually being a house helped a lot. dentists’ offices all smell the same at home and that smell alone is enough to emit feelings of nausea and hatred in me. and also unlike dentist’s offices at home, the property of the dentist house was lined with a very obvious and very foreboding electric fence. which i learned was electrified when i could smell something burning and realised a leaf has fell off a tree right on to the fence and was incinerated. then i thought that if you had children in a city like nairobi you would need to teach them not to touch fences.

the To Do List continued to shrink as i used my extra time meant to be spent agonising at the dentist for other more fruitful activities. like pedicures. that, with the current most favourable exchange rate, cost $8.50. it was delightful as always and i got some serious book reading time in. i am not one for small talk with the hair people or the pedicure people. i will talk to the manicure people but only because my hands are not free to hold a book or magazine and it would be a bit awkward to avoid eye contact that entire time.

next up was an eye appointment and picking out new glasses. because i love health insurance that cares about my eyes (and my teeth) as much as i do. i also love my new specs.
then lunch with a colleague, then work (well, more like email reading), then movie watching and relaxing, nothing really of To Do List significance there.

but today! today i ticked off a few more items. and everyone knows that there is no point in a To Do List if not for the satisfaction involved in crossing something off the list. or checking it off if it is my daytimer because i don’t like it to get too messy in there.

first came some job applications (about to become a constant in my life again) then picking up my new spectacles and getting my others tightened with those mini screwdrivers that always seem to get in christmas crackers but never keep for when you actually need them. like now.

then a massage. a most delicious massage that kind of hurt. but in the good way. but i had some knots that were pretty enormous so the massage lady said i should come back, which i probably will because it was so delicious. but only in africa would the massage therapist use her boobs to hold your head up so she can get to your neck. i actually thought it was quite ingenious.

then came roadside flower shopping (ok, not on the To Do List, but fun anyhow). i am not the biggest fan of the rose, but i got 36 of them for the equivalent of $2. it seems that a lot of the kenyan flower exporters will not be able to harvest and transport their flowers to europe for the valentine’s day, the single biggest day of flower sales of the year, as the main flower growing area of the country is one of the worst in terms of violence and displacement at the moment. if you live in europe and don’t have a problem with using fertile ground to grow something inedible and a total luxury nor do you care about ‘food’ miles or the effluent that is leaked into the nearby lakes that is ruining the natural ecosystem, go out and track down some kenyan grown valentine’s flowers and buy them to support the economic recovery of an african country. or buy something locally and naturally grown like a thistle and give it to your valentine, that would be ok too.

more road side shopping and more To Do List crossing with fruit and veg stands on the way home and then home to cross things of the list. who am i kidding, i crossed everything off the list as soon as it was done.

Friday, February 08, 2008

friday afternoon emails

may i just take this opportunity to say that i wish that all workplace emails that are sent took on the qualities of the 'friday afternoon email.' the kind that cut the bureaucratic bullshit and say what people mean as people are fed up and just want to go to the weekend. it would be such a breath of fresh air.

a difficult itch

i have thought a lot of thoughts that i felt i should share with the www lately. but now it is friday and i am wondering where the week went. i just had to look in my daytimer to see what day and date it is. and what does busy-ness entail? a list!

  • i watched A Mighty Heart the other night to try and unwind from the day and it ended up giving me nightmares about someone trying to break into my flat. which was not very nice. but the movie was good. i was slightly distracted by angelina’s hair.
  • i have also recently watched Atonement. i am not sure that i really enjoyed the movie while i was watching it (i was extremely distracted by kiera’s mouth), but it has made me think a lot about it since then, which is perhaps what a good book or movie should do.
  • i have also finished the book Late Nights on Air and again, i am not sure that i really loved it as i was reading it, but it was a good story. a little bit of canadiana. i think it should be a movie one day. i also think i should visit canada’s north one day.
  • now i am trying to decide if i should read something from my bookshelf that has been recommended by many (The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger), something factual and timely (We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch), something inspirational (Unbowed by Wangari Maathai), or something educational and entertaining (Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie). interestingly (or predictably), of my 4 picks, 3 are by african authors and/or about africa.
  • the roof of my mouth has been itchy for a few days. does this mean anything? could i be allergic to something? it is rather difficult to scratch.
  • the bbc interviewed a csw (commercial sex worker) on the coast of kenya whose client base has seriously diminished since tourism dried up. i am glad that they aired it because the effects of all the violence and displacement is far reaching and endemic. and the city seems to have run out of tuna again.
  • i had tried to ignore american politics as kenyan politics were enough to make my head spin, but i am liking obama. but i wish people would stop talking about how he will bring all this foreign affairs experience to the white house. the dude’s grandparents are kenyan and he lived in indonesia and from what i can tell he is not some foreign relations guru, which is fine. but i think for many people black american of african parentage = worldly and foreign policy focused.
  • i went to a meeting the other day and didn’t feel like an idiot and was proud of my ability to articulate my thoughts. me: 1 – big professional meetings that kick my ass: 57.

mean girls suck

(february 7, 2008)

recently, i have had to deal with some unpleasantness. the kind that so easily brings you back to adolescence and dealing with friends who haven’t demonstrated that they are friends at all. and just like 13 years ago, there is a ringleader and just like 13 years ago, their behaviour elicits the same feelings of being left out. i haven’t confirmed if recent events have been intentional but i do know that i have not encountered this in years and forgot what it felt like to feel uninvited and unwanted.

but instead of this being a sob story and although i am astonished at how much it still hurts my feelings, i want to focus on the positive aspects of this experience. because even though it is not a nice thing to have to contend with, it is also reminds me that i am content with my own company and with spending time doing things i enjoy without compromising values. and a tried and true friend told me that she believes that it is a sign of strength and security to spend time alone and concentrate on yourself. i am choosing to agree with her.

in spite of the upcoming weeks, let alone months, saturated with uncertainty, my confidence continues to swell and my optimism remains intact. i cannot know what i will find on the horizon, but i am a lot less afraid of setting out on my own than i was 13 years ago. perhaps because i know that this feeling is temporary and that you are never really alone.

i am able to comprehend why young people cannot be so sure of their futures, but what i cannot understand is why some girls are so mean.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

chocolate cake for breakfast

the best saturday mornings start with a run followed by a coffee and a piece of leftover chocolate birthday cake while talking to a soldier who is 10 hours behind but managing to stay awake for an hour long conversation.

i had a lovely birthday dinner with some ladies last night and that makes my social calendar full for 2 consecutive nights of dinners with friends, so the isolation is waning although last night i was fully prepare and totally content with climbing into bed. and there has been an invitation to 2 parties tonight so i might need to take my bright red nail polish out for another spin.

if all goes well with my weekend planning, i will be able to go to one of the informal camps of internally displaced persons where my organisation is providing aid. of course, i will only go if it is safe and if there are other people that i know there. but maybe i can be of use and lend an extra pair of hands. adorned with red nail polish.

yesterday i spent the morning at a workshop to talk about how bad things could possibly get and whether or not the humanitarian organisations are prepared for that. although it was not a rosy conversation, i learned a lot and feel better knowing that people are talking about these things and are doing what they can to prepare. and it is interesting because this is precisely what i studied at grad school. negotiated humanitarian access, neutrality, development vs humanitarianism, the responsibility to protect. where is lloyd axworthy when you need him?

like i have said before, i think i belong in emergencies and humanitarian relief and not development.

i think that kofi must have the wrong number for me because i was expecting a call to extend his best birthday wishes, but i still have not heard from him. i will have to follow up with him to make sure that this does not happen again next year.

Friday, February 01, 2008


dear 26,

man, was that a year. you were so much easier to deal with than 25, thank the good lord.

we did a lot together, you and i. we travelled to a few different african countries – we got stung by sea urchins in zanzibar, we safaried with the fam in kenya in the safarimobile, we hung out on a few different indian ocean beaches, we hiked and camped in the rift valley, we fell in love with ethiopia and the smell of frankincense, we melted and battled malaria in egypt, and we roadtripped in tanzania. we also visited in london, and were canadian bound twice.

together we met some pretty fantastic people and have a lot of stories to tell about our year together. some that can only be brought out when children are not present and some that we have photographic proof of (thank you facebook). we worked harder than we’ve ever had to work at a job. and got paid less than we’ve ever gotten paid for a real job.

there was a good amount of stress that we shared though, and i think we can partially blame that for the new creases i found with you. i won’t blame you though, i know it is not your fault. i believe that you wanted the best for me and i trusted you. unlike that 25. jerk.

between current jobs and future careers, i worried a lot this year. i will probably never stop worrying, but it would be nice if you could have told me that it will All Be OK when i was in mid-crisis. and there were a few.

together we met a soldier and had cheese and wine on patios during thunder storms, field trips to war cemetaries, safari lodges, african camp sites, the produce section, and a lot of indian food. we dealt with distance, work commitments, directional changes, differing perspectives, previous relationships, travels to south africa (him), egypt (me), and tanzania and canada (us). i began to rethink all the things i thought i wanted. most are still on the table, but i was challenged in new ways and i think you knew all along it would be ok. thanks for that, if i haven’t said it before.

26, we’ve moved into a new nest together and in the process had to navigate some friendships that were heading off the map. but i would say we built more than we tore down this year, much of which will last through 27 and beyond. i think we made a good team. here’s hoping your friend 27 will be into teamwork as well.

but what is up with being sick so much this year? i have never been the sick kid before, but between sinus infections, malaria, coughs, colds, sore kidneys, and a touch of the laryngitis, i think that i need to pay more attention to my health in future years and perhaps this was a gentle reminder. and sunscreen, i must remember sunscreen. but really, enough with the sick. it doesn’t suit me.

and here i must bid you adieu. keep up the good work. and if you she her, tell 27 that i have some big expectations for the upcoming year.